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November 09, 2004

Lunch with Larry

Today I went to lunch with Larry Osterman, who I had not worked with since the NT networking group in 1994, and I hadn't seen since he ran into me (almost literally, when I tried to sneak in front of his car in the parking lot of Costco) a few years ago.

It was great to see Larry and reminisce about the "Good Ol' Days" when the whole NT team fit on one floor of Building 2. I also got to check out his office (as seen in the Channel 9 video and successors), with his collection of Microsoft service awards, big Lego constructions (yes, he has this one), patent cubes and plaques, 20-year-old manuals, and various other tchotchkes.

The event that inspired me to pay a visit was some feedback that Larry sent me on Find the Bug, in particular the "Kanji Backspace" problem in Chapter 3. This involves code to backspace in text stored in a double-byte character set (DBCS).

Those of you who read Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters (and I know there are a couple of you out there) will recall a story I told about Kanji Backspace, which is a well-known Microsoft interviewing puzzle. The story involves 2 different training sessions I attended.

The first training session was about interviewing college seniors on campus and how to determine if they were "flybacks", candidates for further interviews in Redmond. Someone explained that they had a good question to use, that great people always got it right and anyone who got it wrong didn't deserve a flyback. The question was the famous Kanji Backspace. OK, that seemed a bit harsh, but whatever.

The second training session was about interviewing candidates on campus. In the old level system at Microsoft, college hires might come in at level 10 or thereabouts, and be promoted every 2-3 years. It got a little trickier when determining at what level to hire someone who had industry experience. In this training, someone described how they had a particular question they used to determine if someone should be hired as a level 12 or level 13 -- roughly if they should be slotted in as a stud or a god (using the well-known progression of stud -> god -> programmer -> king). Using a single question to determine someone's level is wrong, wrong, wrong, but what made it wrong, wrong, wronger was the fact that the question they used was Kanji Backspace. That's right, you get the question wrong as a college senior and maybe Microsoft wouldn't even pay for a plane ticket out...but you get it right with a couple of years under your belt, and bingo you're an architect!

Anyway, cut back to this week, Larry had some doubts about my Kanji backspace algorithm, so before lunch we spent a bit of time on his whiteboard debating it. It turned out that we were both a bit wrong. But the most amusing thing for me was that here you had two people who had more than 30 years of experience as Microsoft developers between them, and even we couldn't agree on Kanji Backspace.

Well, maybe if we were in college, we would have gotten it.

Posted by AdamBa at November 9, 2004 10:00 PM

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